Friday, June 12, 2020 9 mins read
Friday, June 12, 2020 9 mins read
Raymond Bunk and his partners at Nightside Distillery are serving up small-batch, Seattle-inspired marvels in Edgewood, Washington
Raymond Bunk is a Chicago native.
But all it took was one look at the snow-capped summits of Mount Rainier, and Raymond knew he wouldn’t be leaving the Seattle area any time soon.
Twenty-four years later, Raymond is still there. In the town of Edgewood, Washington to be exact. Where he is an owner/operator of “America’s Smallest Distillery”.
At just 496 square feet, Nightside Distillery definitely punches above its weight when it comes to delivering big, unique flavors with the small-batch craft spirits they create.
From the docks of Seattle, straight to your front door. This is the story of Nightside Distillery, a tale of grit and determination, steeped in hard work and soaked in perspiration.
Raymond Bunk, a man wearing many hats
Law enforcement, firefighting, emergency services, first responders and the military are all represented in Nightside Distillery’s ownership.
“I am an owner/operator,” Raymond begins. “This means I am the janitor, marketing head, accountant, primary, distiller, general laborer and primary complainer!” he teases.
But wearing many hats is something Raymond Bunk is used to.
He’s a military man. With a tour of Iraq under his belt, only recently relieving himself of duty in the US Air Force Reserves to spend more time working at the distillery.
After 23 years of service, Raymond retired as a Senior Master Sergeant in the fire department. And he is presently a police commander in a municipality nearby to Edgewood, Washington, a job he’s enjoyed for 18 years.
In fact, the majority of Nightside Distillery’s seven owner/operator partners are either first responders or involved with the United States military.
It’s a point of pride for Raymond and the distillery. “Police, fire, 911, EMS and military are all represented.”
Somewhere between all that service, Raymond managed to earn both a Bachelor's Degree from Western Illinois University and his Masters in Business Administration from Pacific Lutheran University.
All this early ambition and willingness to serve were sure signs of big things to come for Raymond. Even if that meant getting them done inside “America’s Smallest Distillery”.
The early days of America’s Smallest Distillery
If you’re ever in the Edgewood, Washington, stop by America’s Smallest Distillery to enjoy some samples and take a tour.
“It was a ‘hold my beer and watch this’ scenario,” explains Raymond. “Four people drinking together, wondering if we could do it.”
And in 2013, they did.
“Our founder, Tom Greene, is a longshoreman. The graveyard yard shift is called 'the nightside’, hence the name.”
Nightsiders are a different breed of worker. Overnight on the docks, it’s all about getting the job done. Regardless of the circumstances or conditions.
They take pride in their work, value efficiency, and place a premium on camaraderie.
Everything the group wanted for their burgeoning distillery business. The name made sense. So, America’s Smallest Distillery adopted it.
“And since Tom is stationed in the Seattle area, we used the Seattle skyline on our logos.”
“A small still and many mistakes later, we finally made something our friends could enjoy!” beams Raymond.
“Then the next big step, finding a location, happened. Step by step we kept going and now here we are.”
It was the city of Edgewood, Washington where Raymond and the rest of the Nightside Distillery crew decided to settle. Partly because of the water.
“The city of Edgewood does not add anything to their water. No chlorine, fluoride, etc. They have won several awards, including ‘Best Water In The United States’ in 2012.”
The purity of the water in that area is one of the contributing factors to Nightside’s exceptional craft spirits. Another has to do with incorporating such unique ingredients.
America’s Smallest Distillery’s variety of craft spirits
Anything but typical, Nightside Distillery offers some of the most unique craft spirits you’ll find anywhere.
“Our gin has 12 different botanicals,” vaunts Raymond.
“The combination of bitter almonds, grains of paradise, cubeb berries and several citrus peels seems pretty unique to me,” he says. And you can hear the delight in his voice.
Raymond also takes pride in Nightside Distillery’s whiskey output. They’re his personal favorites from the distillery’s range. And Raymond Bunk is a man who’s done his homework on the subject of whiskey.
“My wife and I love to travel the world. And love seeing what other places have to offer.” But he’s quick to add this sidebar with a chuckle, “Although I love to travel, I am absolutely petrified of flying!”
One of America’s Smallest Distillery’s most innovative, whiskey-inspired craft spirits is something Nightside calls their, “Whodka”.
This gluten-free, crowd favorite was originally created as an aged vodka, rested in American oak barrels. But evolved into a unique hybrid that Nightside Distillery bills as, “vodka for the whiskey drinker.” However, they have their original vodka for those who prefer clear spirits as well.
The Lemon Drop craft spirit is Nightside Distillery’s top seller.
This citrus-forward spirit is spectacular taken straight. But can be added to a shaker to make a Lemon Drop Martini. Or very easily enjoyed alongside iced tea.
Nightside Fruit Punch was specifically created as a fundraiser for firefighter charities. And there’s really nothing else out there like it.
But if you’re looking for something very distinct, yet truly versatile there is Nightside Apple Pie.
It’s the award-winning craft spirit that’s equally good for basting salmon before it hits the grill, mixing with a good ginger beer or tossing in the blender with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The realities of running America’s Smallest Distillery
Nightside Distillery is a true independent distillery, creating small-batch craft spirits from locally sourced ingredients.
“This isn’t a money-making business,” Raymond flatly admits.
“You do it for the love of the product and the process.”
But that doesn’t deter Raymond and his partners. Remember, we’re dealing with nightsiders, afterall. Ferocious passion, indomitable work ethic, tireless optimism and undeniable enthusiasm.
“We’re the ones that can do the unique and fun spirits!” Raymond exclaims.
Raymond Bunk breaks it down, “The big companies are the big companies. They make their product for a mass market. If they make small tweaks, their customer base may freak out!”
“Independent distillery customers expect unique and odd spirits.”
“Having a customer come in, try my product, and tell me how awesome it is - I liken it to what an artist feels like when someone compliments their painting.”
But that freedom to create is also one of the major challenges facing an independent distillery like Nightside Distillery.
“The customer who walks into the local liquor store knows what they want. Most aren’t interested in trying something different. So we need to attract them to us.”
But even with obstacles constantly in their way, the rewards for Raymond Bunk and his partners far outweigh any of the risk.
The greatest reward of all for America’s Smallest Distillery?
“That at no time did we sell out just to make an extra dime. We do this for the love of our products and our customers.”